Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I had such a sweet time making the little Lucias from Alicia's kit. I noticed today that she set up a flickr group for folks to share images of their little creations, but for lazy me, this is as far as I got in terms of photographing them, all naked and disembodied.

Andrew turned 2 last week and we really didn't do a very good job of celebrating in style. He wanted soy-dogs and pickles for dinner, so that's what he got, along with a chocolate-chip muffin disguised as a cupcake. It's Nigella's recipe and true to the British custom of not being achingly sweet. I could have eaten four in one sitting. Pete brought me flowers for our little man's birthday , a tradition I love. One of my close friends, Cory, had her second baby on Sunday. She and I went to midwifery school together and were neighbors in Brooklyn and pregnant at the same time with our firsts. She's a midwife now at the fabulous, deeply-needed birth center at Roosevelt Hosp. in NYC. Cory's the yin to my yang - she's in all ways very soft, very tender. When I asked her how her birth was, she said, "Terrible". When I asked her why, she sighed, "Well, you know - it was normal". Although I hate she had a rough labor (I'm sure waiting in traffic at the Holland Tunnel nearly in transition didn't help) I am oddly comforted by the fact that even she, who acquiesces so effortlessly through the jagged bits of life, was challenged by the overwhelming task of labor.

Maybe it's just because I'm a midwife, but I've always been curious about why the birth part of Christmas isn't addressed more. I can't imagine the vulnerability of Mary as she struggled along the streets of Bethlehem, looking for a place to have her baby. And I love the idea that most of the most meaningful events of our lives happen in common places, lowly places...that we can find our greatest joys in times of struggle and stillness.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou?

Hello! Here I am.

Sorry I've been so MIA. I think I'm finally starting to feel the effects of my new job juxtaposed with my more "creative" life. The job is wonderful but there is no denying I have less time (and mojo) than I did a month ago.

Christmas is in full swing here in our little house. I started coming up with some decorations this summer and it's been a real treat to start accessorizing with shiny baubles. Last Saturday I made a trip to the Scrap Exchange to check out their Christmas stock. All in all, a total success. Here's a picture of me upon my return. Pete wouldn't even let me in the door before he captured my gluttonous holiday hoarding. But all for less than $30! And yes, those are three trees you see, for a grand total of 4 in our home, hence a level of festivity Bo and I decided was markedly redneck. But only one is lit, which brings the tacky quotient down a little. However, it is made out of white tinsel, so I guess I'm back where I started.

I received the Lucia Doll Kit yesterday from Alicia and it is so darling. This afternoon I am going to huddle up in my studio, sip hot chocolate, listen to old holiday episodes of This American Life and construct the little Lucias. I've also been giving a lot of thought about what to give friends this year. I've never been a big shopper or extravagant gift-giver but I think it's lovely to leave a little "happy" for the people who've been so special and generous all year long. This year I think I'm going to give bags filled with large cubed, powdered-sugar dusted homemade marshmallows and a tin of Trader Joe's sipping chocolate.

I've made marshmallows once before, under different circumstances. In the fall of 2003 NYC was so painfully frigid I would literally go to the furthest lengths of reason to avoid going outside unnecessarily. The day before Thanksgiving I was making some rocky-road fudge to take to my in-laws when I realized I was out of marshmallows. Instead of hauling my body 10 blocks up along the Hudson to the grocery store I decided to make the marshmallows instead. Our kitchen was so tiny - more like a small walk-in closet with an oven and a sink, and the marshmallows were a horrific mess. But....absolutely sublime.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

I think it's fair to say that the past year has been pretty rough, family wise. Not with me and Pete, but with others who are important to us. There have been many sad times coping with these new challenges, this redefining of what it is to be in relationship with others. The changes have also meant some geographic shifts as well, and for the first time in our lives we were without family at Thanksgiving.

Although we joked about how fun it would be just to order pizza and watch movies all day, I felt a little sad at the starkness of it all. Thanksgiving has always been one of my very favorite holidays and the idea of passing it by unceremoniously seemed a shame.

Sunday we ran into our good friend Julie at the park. She and her husband have two beautiful young children and we've been blessed with the friendship of her family this year. She asked about our Thanksgiving plans and learning we had none, immediately invited us to join her family for dinner.

I baked some sides and desserts and today we congregated at Julie's with another family from the neighborhood, also with family far away. Both Julie and her husband have lost their mothers within the last year, and my own losses were heavy in my heart. There we were, three young couples gathered together, bringing food to share, celebrating the gifts in our lives, nourishing bodies and souls in the midst of a challenging year.

I know that many years from now when we likely will have a house full of our own children and even grandchildren, when the wrinkles of this year have long been smoothed, I will think back on this year, this tender afternoon, as one of my most cherished feasts...truly connected to the spirit of the first thanks-giving.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Every time I finish a little quilt I think, "That was fun, but never again."

But look at this! Isn't she beautiful? I think I have the fever. Joelle Hoverson's book is really incredible - and just in time for the holidays.

Does anyone have any tips on prewashing fabric? I did this for the first time yesterday and spent an hour between the washing and drying cutting out the huge thread knots that developed in the wash and bound all my pieces into one huge ball of mess.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Today I feel like one of those spazzy little moths at a porch light. All these things need to get done, and I attempt them, but only in little erratic chunks. I feel exhausted from having been out of town but also restless. It's a day when I just put one little step ahead of the other, little micromovements to stave off futility. I think I'm suffering from a bit of craft burn-out too. So many projects other people are doing are so interesting and inspiring and festive, but something isn't connecting the crafting center in my brain to the actual doing center.

The only task of significance that I was able to accomplish in its entirety today was a culinary exploration of our new Gourmet cookbook. Pete found it at a thrift shop ($3!) and I spent our whole car ride yesterday pouring over the recipes. I made turkey meatloaf for dinner tonight, and I'm serving almond-flecked green beans and garlic mashed potatoes. I even made soft ginger-molasses spice cookies for dessert. Honestly, this is a type of all-American meal that I hardly every cook, but I know it's Pete's ultimate comfort food and I enjoy it too, on these dark, chilly evenings.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Baked Goods

My house smells so delicious right now I just want to walk around with my tongue out, attempting to taste the air. The braided sweet breads above have been passed down to me from grandmother to mother and have become a bit of my specialty as well. I start baking them in November and work straight through the holidays, kneading and rolling and filling and braiding. I find them gratifying in every way: they look impressive, smell heavenly, and taste so good it's all I can do not to go at them face-first.

So here's the recipe, and I'm sorry I can't find the source. I cannot urge you strongly enough to make these. They're a bit fiddley, but not difficult. One caveat: I would encourage you to make these on a day when you have a long stretch of time to kill. Light the fire, turn on TCM or NPR , and prepare to be adored.

Special Occasion Sweet Braids

Makes 4 large braids

Dough: Dissolve 2 pkgs yeast and 1 t. sugar in one cup of warm water. Wait 5 minutes. Combine 2/3 c. sugar, 1 t. salt, 1/2 c. soft butter, and 1/2 c. shortening in mixer bowl. Add 1 c. hot water, stirring until fats melt. Cool slightly. Add dissolved yeast mixture and stir well. Add 2 eggs (slightly beaten) and 3 c. flour, sifted. Beat at med. speed until dough is smooth. Gradually add 3.5 more cups flour until you have a soft, smooth dough. Grease bowl and let rise for and hour or more, until doubled in bulk. Turn onto floured surface and punch down. Divide into 4 equal portions and roll each portion into 9" by 12" rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 3 strips, longwise. Spread 1/4 c. fillling (recipe below) and seal strips. Fold ends under and braid. Transfer to sheet pan to rise about 40 minutes. Bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes. Drizzle glaze (recipe below) on warm breads.


Mix 2 pkgs cream cheese (softened) with 1/2 c. soft butter, 3/4 c. brown sugar, 2 t. cinnamon, 1 t. vanoilla and 1/2 c. walnuts or pecans.

Glaze: 1/4 c. soft butter, 1 lb. powered sugar, 1/3-1/2 c. milk, 1 t. vanilla.

These freeze beautifully and I think they're even better after being thawed.

So the market went pretty well, but remember this post? Yeah, kinda how I felt when I first got there. It's hard not to be intimidated by all of the other folks there - really incredible things.

For me, the most fantastic thing about this show were the lovely people I met. I had the incredible fortune of sitting beside Miss Tess of Made By Tess, and across the way from Brooke Cassady, who made this beautiful vessel:

Tess traded me some cakes for this apron. Sweets for sweets.

'Started my job last week and am looooving it, but very tired. Off to bed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I'll get you, my pretty!

Saturday we hosted a Halloween party for 20 of our sweet friends and their kiddos. I think it will have to be the first annual.

I made lots of sweet treats and watched our home fill up with witches and lions and monkeys - oh, my!

It was one of those warm, sweet autumn days...

Even though I feel as if I have a thousand irons in the fire, I took a singular pleasure in throwing this little party. No pressure, and it was such a scrumptious way to start off the holiday season.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Giving and Receiving

We've just returned from a long weekend in WV. We went because my friend Beth was having a baby shower and since my mother is in CA we had the pleasure of staying with my grandparents, who live next door to the home in which I grew up.

There's no place on earth as comforting to me as my grandparent's sweet house. Although my family life has largely not turned out as I thought it would, my grandparents and their haven in the woods have stayed constant. I'm one of the very few and fortunate people who have a set of idyllic grandparents straight out of a movie. They're among my favorite people on earth, and the only people that these days I can spend time with and feel utterly cared for. I've been needing that kind of connection and tenderness for a long time.

Their home is sacred ground to me, not only because I practically grew up in it, but also because I was married there. See that rhododendron bush in the background behind the little statue? We were married right in front of it.

My grandmother is 4'11" tall and I am nearly 6 ft, and although we are a completely mismatched pair we are alot the same on the inside. Except she is infinitely gentle and kind. Mammy is a gifted cook and certainly the reason I have such an affinity for the kitchen myself. When I think of the tastes of my life I inevitably come back to her food: hot rolls, roast beef, apple pies, biscuits, stewed apples, creamed tomatoes. Many years ago I began to ask her to teach me how to make her food and she would spend hours guiding me through pie crusts and yeast breads. It is painful beyond words to think of my own children not knowing her they way I have, so I'm nearly obsessed with filling their memories with the tastes and aromas of her home so they can always have a connection to her.

Check out her pantry. Pete and I just crack up:

I finished up the quilt just in time for the shower and I think Beth really liked it.

I'm curious.... Does anyone else sometimes struggle with giving handmade gifts? I'm just asking because I feel that my spirit of gift-giving changes if I've actually made the gift. When I make something for someone else I usually don't have feelings that I want to keep it, but what I do struggle with are the expectations I have of the recipient. It's really so unfair, because so much of the crafter goes into a gift, what is an appropriate response? This really isn't about this particular gift because she was totally tickled with the quilt, but any time I give a handcrafted gift, I really do give a bit of my heart away with it. And I suppose in gift-giving, as in love, you need to be careful who you give your heart to. I guess I'm fortunate to have lots of sappy friends who love sentimental stuff as much as I do.

The Handmade Market is in just 2 weeks and I am really working furiously to try to get everything completed in time, so please forgive me if I am Bad Blogger for the next little bit. I'm also hosting a Cut-the-Pumpkin Party for the neighborhood kids on Saturday and haven't even planned a daggum thing. But what could be bad about even a lame Halloween party? Absolutely nothing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Fair

There's something so old-fashioned about a state fair. So Rogers and Hammerstein. I just love them.

I'd never been to the NC fair before but was so delighted by our morning there.

We saw the sweetest little animals. These piglets remind me of the one that my sister had as a child. Don't be fooled: they are strong and loud. We lived in a nice residential neighborhood and before the pig got too big my sister would put a fuchsia and rhinestone leash on it, don high heels, and walk that swine around the block. As it got older it would get out of its pin and folks would leave messages on our voicemail saying, "Uhmmm...there's a pig in our yard, and I'm thinking it might be yours... ".

This is I.M. That's his name. His owner told me that he is a stud donkey and that he has 12 girlfriends. What a job. I told him I thought I.M.'s name should be Hef.

So of course the best thing about a fair is the crap food, and Pete and I ate our fair share of tubular meat and funnel cakes and apple cider.

The fair has a sweet, Mayberry-type feel to it. We were there on Sunday morning so there were gospel sings.

I think these are mules. Such docile creatures, and so content.

It does. It really does.

Friday, October 12, 2007


In an unfortunate turn of fate, we lost our internet connection sometime Monday night. When I woke up Tues morning to persistent "cannot find server" messages I thought I was going to be sick and hysterical all at the same time and went around the house screaming, "But it's my only contact with the outside world!!!!".

So for three days I have soldiered on, trying to imagine how I got through my life before the days of the WWW. Several times a day I would frantically check - has it come back on? Nothing. My name is Jill and I have an internet addiction.

But then this afternoon - a miracle!! It's fixed!! My hands literally shook with glee as I bopped from one site to another, barely daring to believe it's true. My son, who has never watched a TV program was allowed 30 minutes of all-access Thomas the Train viewing on YouTube. It was the virtual equivalent of the scene in Willy Wonka where the gluttonous children are allowed to gorge themselves on the edible world. That was me - the fat kid from Germany.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Workin'. Sorta.

There's come to be a running joke in our house that by the time the market rolls around in early November, my hands will be so gnarled and arthritic from incessant crocheting that if anyone wants to buy an item I will have to wrap it up with my toes and have them place the money between my teeth.

I did manage to step away long enough this weekend to have a lovely visit with one of my BFFs, Kerri, and her cute kiddo. I wish I'd gotten some pictures, but it's hard to balance a camera when you have a glass of wine in one hand and a honkin' slab of flourless chocolate cake in the other. And the girl brought me homemade apple butter. Bless her.

Thanks for all of your generous congrats about my job. I decided to take down the post I wrote last Friday because even though I don't like to be my own worst censor, I do try to be conscientious of the energy contained in a post. I was feeling crabby and funky when I wrote that, so I kicked it to the curb. But I did save your kind words - y'all are just the nicest.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

You Asked for It

too. much. wine.

must. sleeeeeeep.

But before I do, here's the recipe for the cake, taken from Martha's Baking Handbook. I'm sure I'm violating tons of copyright laws by publishing this, so copy it quickly - or better yet, buy her book. You won't regret it.

Apple Spice Cake with Goat-Cheese Frosting

1 3/4 cups plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 lbs (about 4) McIntosh apples, peeled cored and cut into chunks
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup honey
4 large eggs
Cream Cheese Frosting


In a medium sauce pan, spread 1/3 cup sugar in an even layer, cook over medium high hear, without stirring, until sugar begins to turn golden and melt around the edges (3-4 min). Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir until meted and mixture is a translucent golden amber. Add apple chunks and lemon juice, and stir to coat apple pieces with caramel. Cover and cook over low heat until apples fall apart, 6-8 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches the consistency of applesauce and generously coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using butter wrappers, grease 3 6-2” round cake pans (or 2 9-2” pans); line bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg; set aside. In a small bowl, combine milk and vanilla; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, remaining 1 3/4 cups of sugar, and honey on medium high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, until smooth.

With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with flour, beat until just combined after each, being careful not to overmix. Add cooled applesauce; mix to combine, about 1 minute.

Divide the batter among prepaired pans. Bake, rotating pans halfway through (don’t think you can get away w/o rotating the pans, until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, 35-40 minutes (40-45 min if using 9” pans). Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Run a knife or offset spatula around the edges. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off parchment paper. Reinvert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

Frost with Goat Cheese Icing . You can use all cream cheese if you want, but the goat cheese was delish.

Goat Cheese Frosting

12 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Put cheeses into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce speed to medium-low, and mix in sugar and vanilla. Raise speed to medium-high, and mix until fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.